For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-stakes test and a show of clout


DOHA, QATAR – In a country whose wealth and thirst have raised questions of identity – conciliator or instigator, divided state bridge or belligerent – the National Museum of Qatar offers a brief and reflective self-assessment.

The Emir of the country, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was heard to say, “Qatar has changed from a state that some people cannot identify on the map to a major player in politics, economy, media, culture and sports.” With words guessed on a black background and hard to argue with.

In any case, Qatar’s progress will be tested when it hosts the World Cup next month – an event that has invited unprecedented scrutiny and criticism for the country and threatened its carefully crafted global image through innovation. Diplomacy, humanitarian work and business endeavors such as sports sponsorship.

The families of the migrant workers who died in Qatar are waiting for answers.

Recent weeks have brought attention to the plight of migrant workers who have suffered or died building infrastructure for the event, and concerns about how LGBTQ supporters will be received in a country that criminalizes homosexuality. In the last two days, the argument escalated into anger and it was decided not to drink beer in the stadium.

Qatari officials have deflected much of the criticism, suggesting the country is being unfairly selected for racism – and ignoring the disruptive nature of the competition.

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Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said: “Hosting the first football premier in an Arab and Muslim majority country is a truly historic moment and an opportunity to break stereotypes about our environment.” “Football has the power to create bonds of friendship and overcome conflicts between nations and peoples.”

And for Qatar, a successful tournament will validate the myriad of efforts it has made over the years to raise its global profile and enhance its competence.

Abdullah Al-Arian, professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar and author of the new book, “Soccer in the Middle East: State, Society and the Beautiful Game,” said the World Cup is “one part of a broader strategy.” With the intention of making Qatar as an important regional actor.

“It is carving out a place for itself outside the shadow of neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is done in part by investing in large development projects, media, public culture, education, and medicine. “The World Cup is similar to that,” he said.

Not far from the tournament, Qatar faced an even tougher challenge. The story is told in the museum in Doha – the creator of the national narrative of evolution – in the exhibition about the “Ramadan blockade”: in 2017 the siege of Qatar by neighbors including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which lasted for four years.

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The embargo has divided the Middle East, separated families with cross-border ties from the Persian Gulf states, and left Qatar, the country with the world’s highest per capita income — scrambling to provide for its citizens — in an unusual crisis, all of a sudden. and residents food and other supplies.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of terrorism; She denied this. Their anger stems from Qatar’s support for Islamist groups in the region, its support of the Al Jazeera news channel, and its general refusal to get along with its neighbors. The standoff ended last year when Qatar refused to meet detailed demands from the Saudi-led group, including shutting down Al Jazeera. But the tension continues.

As Saudi Arabia lifted its embargo on Qatar, key US allies eased years of conflict.

There was agreement on the “common threat” of the region, Mohammed said. “But sometimes we disagree on the techniques,” he admits.

For the moment, Qatar seems to have other priorities. Before being overwhelmed by the demands of the World Cup, Qatar returned to its role as a regional mediator, helping the United States negotiate a third-party intervention with Iran and the Taliban — including helping to evacuate American citizens and allies amid the country’s turmoil. From Afghanistan.

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Qatar hosts a major base for the US military’s Central Command, and its neighbors have sought to confront the Biden administration by pursuing close ties with China and Russia, which they believe have alienated the US from the region.

“The United States has other priorities,” he said. We can’t blame this on the resolution,” said Mohammed. Governments in the region, he added, “must start taking more responsibility.”

According to Elham Fakro, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Center for Gulf Studies, Qatar’s “international role has matured over the past decade.” Although the ban came as a “shock”, Qatar still managed to pull off “several diplomatic victories”, including confrontations on behalf of the United States.

“Qatar’s ideal situation going forward will be one where it can balance its international foreign policy interests while avoiding threatening another regional relationship with its neighbors,” she said.

At the start of the tournament, Qatar is now hosting those neighbors and will send a big-ticket contingent, including Saudi Arabia, where thousands of fans will travel from the Arab world to the tournament – a dramatic change after the hostilities during the ban.

With fans from all over, including Tunisians, Iranians, Moroccans and Saudis, it lent the tournament a “special flavor”, Al-Arian said: the latest example of Qatar’s mediating role.


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